Zoning amendment squeaks through divided council

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
November 29th, 2012

A bylaw to rezone Curtis Nichols’ property on Black Bear Drive from R1-Residential to C2-Commercial split council down the middle, and even created procedural confusion as the amendment was (just barely) adopted.

Previous reports give greater detail on the proposal and the strong opposition mounted by a few of Nichols’ neighbours.

“I’m torn, I’m really torn,” Coun. Jody Blomme said, reflecting the mood of council as a whole. Blomme’s opinion was also influenced by the proximity of her personal residence to Nichols’ property. She brought up this “elephant in the room” right away, but because she has no “pecuniary” interest either way in the zoning change it was unnecessary for her to declare a conflict of interest and remove herself from the debate.

She added, “If it were just me, I’d be fully in support of it.” But the outcry from neighbours strongly influenced her, and she also felt the C2 zone itself was “ambiguous,” with some uses intergrading with the Light Industrial zone. Nearby light industry is about a hundred metres down the Cascade highway, Blomme argued, so there is a “buffer distance.” She also said residents bought into the area “to be out of the way, out of town,” and to live somewhere “quieter.”

Mayor Greg Granstrom was opposed to the change. Although he felt issues of noise and mess could be handled by the Good Neighbour Bylaw, he was most influenced by the OCP (Official Community Plan) designation of the area as a “gateway” that should welcome visitors. He argued that the broad uses allowed under C2 included several that contradicted this gateway designation and could impact negatively on nearby businesses.

“We have to be careful,” he said. “Once we zone it, we can’t change it. If [Nichols] sells to someone else, they can do anything that’s within the C2 zone.” He quoted from the OCP that “Gateway Commercial” properties should engender a “sense of arrival” and be welcoming.

The C2 zone permits non-retail uses that may require outdoor storage or activity areas, in addition to retail uses “limited to” automobile sales and repairs, car washes, supply outlets, business support services, schools, clubs and lodges, construction and trades, delivery terminals, fruit and vegetable stands, gas stations, glass sales, fitness clubs, household repairs, light machinery sales, mortuaries, nurseries, plumbing shops, public parking, restaurants, retail outlets, sheet metal shops, equipment rentals, storage yards, light assembly operations, small warehouses and distribution, theatres, pool halls, amusement arcades, bowling alleys, racquet sport facilities, small grocery stores, and vet clinics.

Coun. Tim Thatcher noted, “There is very little property in town for commercial or light industrial applications,” but he also argued, “It’s right at the entrance to town. The type of business that goes into that area has to enhance the town in a beneficial way. I don’t think a metal fabrication business there, [Nichols’ stated intention,] is ideal.”

Both Granstrom and Coun. Tim Thatcher have been heavily involved with the planning process for renovations to the nearby Rossland Museum to reinvigorate the institution as a ‘gateway’ centre.

Coun. Kathy Wallace agreed: “I’m not sure that should be sitting in the gateway to the community,” but she also emphasized she was “torn” because other properties in the area already have C2 zoning, including the Rossland Motel next door whose owners objected to Nichols’ application.

Coun. Cary Fisher, however, was clearly in favour of the change, reiterating Thatcher’s point that very few properties in town allow for commercial operations. “We’d all be a lot more comfortable if it were a loom business,” or a store selling “Harry Potter witch brooms,” he joked. In that case, he argued, everyone would be in favour: “What a great gateway!”

Fisher went on to quell fears of potential noise from a metal shop expressed by neighbours, noting similar operations in Fruitvale residential areas that he has visited and are “very quiet” outside, despite lathes and other machinery inside the shop. “I don’t see any problem at all,” he said, “with the right operator and bylaw enforcement.”

Coun. Kathy Moore concurred: “I think staff addressed concerns brought up in letters sent. Maybe it’s not an ideal spot, but there are very limited commercial and business sites in town. This will be a good addition to the community,” she said, to “build capacity.”

Coun. Jill Spearn first noted her “respect to the people who came to council to oppose this site,” but agree with Fisher and Moore: “This gentleman wants to start a business and will do his best to mitigate any noise. I really like the way the planning department responded to the concerns brought up,” she said, referring to a landscaping plan.

Moore added that the change is “compatible with other zoning in the area,” and that part of town “is not the most gorgeous.”

Qualifying that she meant no offence, Spearn followed up on Moore’s comment: “When we talk about the ‘gateway’…this is an unattractive entrance to our community.” She called the arrangement of residences, businesses, and industry in the area as “helter skelter.”

She also spoke about the “concentric ring model of city planning,” moving from core to residential to light industry. “This is exactly the kind of area where light industry exists and has for some time. People who live out there choose to live out there in the setting that already exists. It’s not Happy Valley, it’s not by the golf course with large lots.”

Spearn added a warning: “We’re becoming this gentrified little city that doesn’t welcome a wide variety of uses. This place, more than anywhere, is suited [to commercial.]”

When it came time to vote on the bylaw’s third reading, however, the process was complicated by the fact that Blomme was participating via conference call due to an illness. The mayor called the vote and he, Thatcher, and Wallace were opposed, with Moore, Spearn, and Fisher in favour, bringing the tally to 3-3.

The mayor asked Blomme for her vote, but she stalled because she felt as if she were the “deciding vote,” even though technically this was not the case—had she been in the room, all votes are taken simultaneously. The confusion led to a brief discussion about if Blomme’s residence’s proximity to Nichols did, in fact, constitute a conflict of interest—this decision is left to the councillor in question and usually only pertains when a financial interest is involved.

A revote was called in which Blomme chose to abstain (which counts as a vote in favour) so third reading passed 4-3.

Then council voted on adoption of the bylaw, but the votes changed again. This time Blomme voted against, while Wallace and Granstrom chose to vote in favour, resulting in a 5-2 pass for the zoning amendment.

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